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The Congress’s torchbearer in Uttarakhand

While the Congress saw crushing defeats across the country in the Lok Sabha elections this year, the party emerged victorious in the July 21 by-elections in the state. After winning all the three Assembly seats – Dharchula, Someshwar and Doiwala – Uttarakhand Chief Minister Harish Rawat is being seen as the sole torchbearer of the ruling party in state.

Following the Congress’s by-election triumph, Rawat received praise from party president Sonia Gandhi. Now, the victory is one of the major poll plans of the Congress for the coming Assembly elections in Haryana and Maharashtra.

When Vijay Bahuguna was nominated chief minister of Uttarakhand in March 2012, Rawat had revolted against the party high command, expressing disappointment on the decision. Within a few months, he was awarded a berth in the Union Cabinet. Soon, however, he started preparing the grounds for securing the top job in the hill state.

The deluge in the state in June 2013 was a bolt from the blue for Bahuguna, with the party high command deciding to remove him for inept handling of the crisis; Rawat was appointed chief minister in February this year.

The ride hasn’t been entirely smooth for Rawat. He has faced severe infighting within the party. After the change of guard in February, Bahuguna, his political rival, was at loggerheads with him, seeking Cabinet berths for some of his staunch supporters such as Subodh Unniyal. But Rawat didn’t oblige.

After the recent by-elections, some MLAs in the Bahuguna camp have switched sides.

In Uttarakhand, the Congress was dependent on the support of the Progressive Democratic Front, an alliance of independent MLAs. Despite the Congress having a majority in the Assembly, Rawat has ruled out breaking the coalition.

Rawat, who had secured a victory from Dharchula, defeating the Bharatiya Janata Party’s B D Joshi by a margin of 20,604 votes, has been advised medical rest, following a severe neck injury sustained in a plane accident last month.

“I will visit AIIMS (All India Institute of Medical Sciences) again, next month,” he says.

Focusing on development and reconstruction works after last year’s flash floods in the state, Rawat is busy holding meetings with top senior government officials. Though the floods left a trail of destruction, their impact on the state’s economy wasn’t as severe as feared. The state’s economy grew 5.65 per cent in 2013-14, against 5.61 per cent in 2012-13. For 2013-14, Uttarakhand’s per capita income stood at Rs 1,03,000, against Rs 92,191 in 2012-13 and Rs 85,372 in 2011-12, according to statistics released by the Directorate of Economics and Statistics.

For Rawat, the biggest challenge is reviving the char dham yatra, the backbone of the Garhwal region’s economy. Despite the government taking a series of steps in this regard, the pilgrimage to the char dham shrines of Badrinath, Kedarnath, Gangotri and Yamunotri has virtually come to a standstill, following the met department’s adverse forecast last month.

“Bad publicity has caused immense problems for the Chardham Yatra,” Rawat admits.

He adds his government is set to take strong measures to revive the sectors that haven’t contributed revenue since the hill state was carved out in 2000. The transport, tourism and power sectors figure in this list.

Another challenge is addressing the state’s burgeoning non-Plan expenditure, estimated at Rs 24,940.32 crore in 2013-14, against Rs 21,043 crore in 2012-13, an increase of 18.52 per cent.

Rawat has set up a committee and entrusted it with preparing a report on the state’s economic condition.

In a bold move, the chief minister has said Gairsain will be the state’s summer capital. Asked whether Gairsain in the state’s Chamoli district would be made the permanent capital, he said there was need for a political consensus on this matter.

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